For years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has compared Iran to the biblical Persia, the ancient kingdom where the Jewish people were nearly annihilated through the evil designs of the arch-villain Haman.
But when an American-born rabbi, widely seen as a religious moderate who built one of the most innovative Orthodox synagogues in the United States, compared Obama to Haman in a speech on Saturday night, reaction was swift.
Liberal American rabbis slammed Shlomo Riskin, and the North American human rights group T’ruah collected over 260 signatures for an online petition demanding he apologize.
“The president of the United States is lashing out at Israel, just like Haman lashed out at all the Jews,” said Riskin, now the chief rabbi of Efrat, a religious West Bank settlement home to a large number of English-speaking immigrants. “And I’m not making a political statement. That’s OK. I’m trying to make a Jewish statement.”
Riskin reversed himself in an interview Wednesday with JTA, saying that it is Iran – not Obama – that should rightfully be compared to Haman. But his view reflects increasing Israeli mistrust of Obama — particularly as the president struggles to reach an accord concerning Iran’s nuclear program — that occasionally invites comparisons with the ultimate enemies of the Jewish people.
In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that 61 percent of Israelis had some or a lot of confidence in Obama. Nearly two years later, only one-third of Israelis viewed him favorably, according to a poll by The Times of Israel. In 2014, a Times of Israel poll found that 64 percent of Israelis did not trust Obama to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. A year later, the number had risen to 72 percent.
“There is widespread fear and outrage that Obama is allowing Iran to become a nuclear threshold nation,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the the Shalom Hartman Institute, a pluralist education center and think tank in Jerusalem. “The extreme statements comparing Obama to historical enemies of the Jews emerge from a widespread sense among Israelis that this president has betrayed us.”
Harsh criticism of Obama among Israel’s settler community is hardly new, nor is the evocation of Haman in commentary about the American president.
In 2009, Shlomo Aviner, a leader of the religious Zionist community and the rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Beit El, invoked the Purim story in criticizing Obama’s opposition to Israeli settlement expansion. Israel should act like Mordechai, who “would not bow down and prostrate himself” to Haman, Aviner said.
In 2012, Israel’s Army Radio reported that Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, had also compared Obama to Haman.
As an accord with Iran has grown more likely — despite fervent Israeli objections — criticism of Obama has spread even to leaders of the Israeli peace movement. In March, David Grossman, an influential author and prominent critic of Netanyahu, defended the prime minister’s opposition to the Iran deal, calling Obama “clumsy” and “naive” in his handling of negotiations.
“It demonstrates an even criminal naivete in groping to understand the complexities of the Middle East,” Grossman told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Riskin’s remarks on Saturday added a biblical dimension to the critique of Obama. But though Riskin made the comments to a religious crowd, allusions to foundational Jewish stories resonate with secular Israelis as well.
The Israeli public has not always viewed Obama unfavorably. The 2013 Pew study, published two months after Obama’s visit to Israel, found that 82 percent of Israelis believed American policy in the Middle East was either fair or favored Israel. Nearly half wanted Obama to play a larger role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama’s handling of the Iran situation, Halevi says, has caused the president’s standing to plummet.
“There is no real debate here about whether Obama can be trusted,” he said. “It’s not true that Israelis were hostile to Obama from the beginning. The closer we get to a deal, the more he’s losing us.”
Dutch Watchdog Finds 71% Rise In Anti-Jewish Incidents
The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands rose last year by 71 percent, and some police officers are unwilling to intervene, the Jewish community’s watchdog on anti-Semitism said.
The Hague-based Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, recorded 171 incidents in 2014 compared to 100 in 2013, CIDI wrote in a statement sent to the media on Wednesday about the group’s annual report on anti-Semitism.
The statement noted “a worrisome phenomenon — Police officers’ failure to intervene in cases of evident anti-Semitism. Some police officer prefers to look the other way.”
Congress Delegations Shares Concerns About Iran's Nuclear Capability
At least one member of a bipartisan congressional delegation from the US visiting the Middle East has a personal concern for Israel’s security. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who holds a senior position on the House Armed Services Committee, told President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday that she has a daughter and son-in-law living in Tel Aviv plus a grandson born in Israel and another on the way.
Five years ago, when she and delegation leader Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, had approved the money for the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system, she never imagined that it would be used to protect her own family.
Responding to remarks made by Rivlin about Israel’s worries about Iran’s ability to produce nuclear arms, Sanchez (D-California) said that Iran is a matter of deep concern, and “we hope that nuclear weapons will be kept out of the hands of Iran.”
Turner said that this was his 10th visit to Israel since the 1990s, and that the neighborhood had changed significantly since his first visit.
He is pleased to have worked with Sanchez on the Iron Dome, he said, adding that it is inspiring to see Israel’s accomplishments in missile defense.
Like Sanchez, he also appreciates Israel’s concerns regarding Iran, whose nuclear capability, he said, would also put the United States and the whole world at risk.
Palestine Gets ICC Membership, Opening Door To Israel War Crimes Prosecution
Palestine is soon to have its day in court, after securing long-awaited membership at The Hague. Plagued by constant setbacks to a peace deal with Israel, the ICC newcomer wants to see Tel Aviv on the stand for alleged war crimes in Gaza.
The April 1 accession to the International Criminal Court is the most substantial step to date in Palestine’s international legal campaign to seek justice for Israel’s operation ‘Protective Edge’ last summer, in which thousands of civilians were killed.
Shortly before the summer assaults, Israel insisted that Hamas was firing rockets into its territory and answered with massive bombardment, complete with a ground phase that saw destruction on a scale not seen for decades. After 50 days, a ceasefire was agreed upon.
Speaking to RT, ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said that Palestine now gets all the same rights as well as obligations that member countries have. He also added that the “ICC jurisdiction of Palestine has already started because Palestine had made a declaration accepting the jurisdiction of ICC with retroactive effect starting from 13 of June 2014. And based on this declaration the ICC prosecutor has already started a preliminary examination to decide whether or not the legal criteria are met to open investigation.”
ICC membership has been years in the making. It comes after Palestine gained UN observers status, followed by an increasing number of European countries recognizing them as an independent state or considering it. Israel’s operation tipped the balance in the Palestinians’ favor.
It remains unclear how soon Palestine will be filing complaints against the Israelis, but an initial probe into war crimes by both sides is already in progress. The deadly July-August assault on Gaza has never been subject to a thorough, independent investigation, and the occupation of disputed territories and settlement-building by Israel is also ongoing.
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